Building and assessing a frame of reference in the Netherlands

Teaching History article

By Jannet van Drie, Albert Logtenberg, Bas van der Meijden and Marcel van Riessen, published 25th March 2010

Please note: this article pre-dates the 2014 National Curriculum and some content may be outdated.

Concerns about our ability to equip young people with a frame of reference that they can actually use to orient themselves in time are widespread. The challenges were extensively debated within the last issue of Teaching History, with teachers, researchers and historians not only exploring the merits of different kinds of framework, but also questioning the extent to which pre-determined structures might actually inhibit the development of students' own historical thinking. In light of this exploratory research, the new thematic schemes of work and the classroom experimentation being conducted in England, it is fascinating to read here about dramatic decisions taken in the Netherlands.

A complete framework of ‘orientation knowledge' has been introduced into the secondary curriculum, comprising ten clear-cut ‘eras' each with associated labels, and a small number of ‘characteristic features'. This article explores the early impact of this curriculum reform within the exam system as attempts are made to assess students' knowledge, understanding and use of the new framework.

Teachers themselves are finding it difficult to let go of questions that only ask for the reproduction of knowledge, making the framework almost a goal in itself, while students currently show few signs of actually using it to support their reasoning about chronology. Clearly two years of working with the new curriculum is not enough. Nonetheless, the research methods and analytical categories developed by van Drie and her colleagues are of tremendous value both in illustrating the value of listening very carefully to the ways in which our students reason together, and in suggesting how we might define and measure genuine progression in students' capacity to use historical frames of reference.

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